Sunday, December 16, 2012

Appreciating the Season in New York City

I lived in Hawaii for 22 years and never went to Pearl Harbor. I've lived in New York for four and a half years and have never been to the Statue of Liberty.

But on that same note, I went to the volcano in Hawaii more times than I can count, and I've been to see the great big Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center twice, the second time being last night.

It wasn't something I would have done on my own. Like most New Yorkers, I see more of my city when I'm showing it off to out-of-towners. This weekend, my lifelong friend C is visiting from Hawaii, which means it's time for adventuring!

Yesterday was a big day for us. C and I took the bus out to Gowanus to the Brooklyn Craft Fair. The address took us a street that was mixed residential and warehouses. At first we thought our event must be in the abandoned water tower, since it couldn't be in the office supply warehouse, but then C spotted the food trucks selling gourmet Chinese dumplings and we knew we were in the right place.

"Way different from the koa wood stuff you see in Hawaii," she remarked as we browsed booths of hand-printed stationary, knit caps with ear flaps that looked like big headphones, silk-screen t-shirts, and watch gear jewelry. We each both a small gift for someone in our family and then had fancy cocktails with gin and vodka, very tasty.

After that, we left Brooklyn on the subway and met up with the BF in Chelsea, where he gave us a walking tour of the neighborhood that included the Hotel Chelsea and London Terrace. I'd told C earlier in the day, "He's going to tell you about windows," and sure enough, the BF had a lot to say about the evolution of windows in those historic buildings.

I finally made it to the High Line Park that day, after nearly two years of promising myself I would go to the park on the old elevated railway. It's clearly changing that neighborhood quite a bit, and not just because everyone whose apartment windows face the park now have thousands of strangers looking into their living spaces. We saw a lot of construction, and it remains to be seen how it will change the still-industrial feel of the buildings between the High Line and the Hudson River.

Since we were in Chelsea, we decided to have an abridged tour of the art gallery scene. We only visited three, but I feel we got a pretty good cross-section of what's going on in the art world right now. The first gallery was full of pieces made with leather instead of canvas, mixing Japanese Buddhist and Catholic imagery. The colors were rich, the leatherwork was amazing, and I would have liked to take home one of the artist's works.

I can't say the same for the work we saw in the second gallery, which was weird and disturbing. It looked like huge photographs of extremely realistic plastic molds of people's faces and bodies that the artist had smashed. We all had the same reaction: "Where are that woman's nipples?!" We didn't even go inside; seeing it from the street was enough.

The third and final gallery was part of a printmaking school, so it was an interesting mix of student pieces that varied in quality and subject matter. I fell in love with a set of six prints that were just black trees on a white background. But the trees were the tiny little ones the city plants on sidewalks and holds up with wires and stakes, so that one day they'll be great big trees that give shade and fall down on cars during hurricanes. There was something so hopeful about those tiny trees. I identified with them. I am those trees.

Plus the elevator up to the gallery was an old hand-operated one with the folding cage door, and I always like those.

But wait--there's more! C wanted to see the big tree at Rockefeller Center, so we jammed ourselves into a crowded F train and entered the even more crowded Midtown tourist crowd. If the BF hadn't been there to show us the shortcut through 30 Rock, we wouldn't have made it. I almost abandoned our mission twice before he led us through the lobby and out the revolving doors to the foot of the tree itself. It was magnificent.

And then we fled back to Brooklyn, where the buildings are lower and the crowds are thinner. C and I have been on trips to Europe together, and we both agreed that none of those capitals, not even London or Rome, feel as big and busy as New York City does. It was quite the day, and I'm glad we did it. Even when you live in one of the most exciting cities in the world, you tend to get into a little rut going between your sleeping place and your working place, day after day after day. Sometimes it takes a set of fresh eyes to get you out and about, and appreciate the splendor right outside your doorstep.

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